There is a commonality I have found in working with people who are struggling. Its actually a connection that we all share whether now, in the past, or off in the future. While each soul has (or will) experience trauma, though the facts will likely be different, we usually start from a similar point–shock.
If you think about it, when you hear of a tragedy, how often do you hear the person saying, “Yeah, I knew that was going to happen!”? Almost never. Most of the time, if you really listen to a person that is hurting, you will hear that soul searching for how the scenario came to be in the first place. “I didn’t see the car coming.” “I never expected him/her to do that.” “Everything happened so fast! I had no time to think.” “I don’t know how it happened.”
When I started to write on the trembling and bewilderment that overtook Mary and the women who were with her, I decided to see what the other gospel writers had to say about their discovery at the tomb. Though I have read them multiple times, I was taken aback at how different each testimony was. Each contained varying versions of what happened. Mark 16:9 paid particular attention to what the women were physically feeling: trembling and bewildered. The other gospels communicated fear, confusion, awe, doubt, denial, tears, and additional responses not noted in Mark.
At first, I was a bit unsure of how to reconcile the differences. As I contemplated the accounts, and the fact that each writer was sharing the version that they experienced or knew of, an illustration came to mind. Much like looking through a microscope, you can turn the magnification button until it brings the lens in real tight on what you are looking at. If you dial it back, you get a broader view of the sample…hence, more of a big picture. But when something is enlarged, you often forfeit the fine details and specifics that come from magnification. In that process, you can loose valuable data. The same thing occurs with a camera. We can come in very closely on the details of a subject, or pull back and gain a larger picture of the surrounding background. Both perspectives can offer crucial information to aid our understanding.
Being that we have four accounts of what occurred at the tomb, it is important to note that each writer is sharing with us what they observed (or understood to have been observed). Their accounts make up a bigger picture that can be zoomed in upon to give details that may not have been noticed when looking from a broader context. Discussion of this event, the empty tomb, generally centers around the resurrection–the key tenet of our faith. But what if there is more there that God wants us to learn? What if He would like us to bring our lens in a little closer?
Much like the scene of an accident, detectives search for witnesses and interview them to help learn what occurred. Depending upon how close the witness was to the incident, whether they were looking in the right direction, even down to how they are positioned can impact what they see and hear; what they observe and what they miss. You can literally have two people talking to one another when an accident occurs in front of them, and each will remember different details in addition to what they may be able to recall together. At the tomb, we see the same thing occurring. There are the principal witnesses: Mary and the other women, the angel or angels depending upon the account, and the guards. Then, there are witnesses who appeared later: the disciples. While they did not observe directly what happened at the tomb, within short order, they went to the tomb and learned it was empty.
And it is in the emptiness of the tomb that we find all the witnesses bearing a similar response: some form of shock. Call it surprise, if you would like. Confusion, upset, distress, scare, jolt, collapse are a few of the synonyms. (thesaurus.com/shock). Each of the witnesses experienced something different, but all of them suffered a jolt to their understanding. Some were scared; some were confused. Frankly, that is what commonly happens when something painful and unexpected occurs in our lives. Almost as if God is adding emphasis, one of synonyms for shock is traumatism, which means “any abnormal condition produced by trauma, or the trauma or wound itself.” (dictionary.com/traumatism).
When we experience the shock of something, a wound has already begun. What becomes important to know is that our bodies and minds typically respond in certain ways. Tightening our lens on Mark 16:9, we see some of the common physical responses: trembling and bewilderment. When experiencing or recalling a trauma, it is not uncommon for the person sharing to tremble. Trembling can exist in a range from mild shaking to quivering to downright shivering. It is why you see people in emergency situations often covered with a blanket over their shoulders. It is why dogs who are afraid of storms do better when given a jacket that snuggles around them to help ease their trembling. It is why weighted blankets can work wonders for those struggling with PTSD. Trembling is a natural, physical reaction to the high stress that can occur in life. It is not a sign of weakness or cold or that something is wrong with them. One theory is that trembling is the body’s way of resetting the central nervous system after trauma, though the dynamics of why are not fully understood. (Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, 1997, North Atlantic Books).
God wants us to understand that the women at the tomb were responding appropriately to something traumatic, and that trauma manifested itself in their reactions and choices. While the resurrection is what we, as Christians, celebrate on Easter, we will be amiss if it is the only thing that we focus on. The gospel writers, with varying details, have described for us much more in the story of the empty tomb. Those details hold important information that we can glean and apply in our own lives and our world. The writers did not keep it simple and linear. They gave us observations and facts based on different eyes, perspectives and positions of those close and those further away from the event.
Shock, at its heart, walks closely with bewilderment. You can see it at most funerals; the family and friends walking around, looking lost or uncertain. The root, bewilder, means “to lead into perplexity or confusion; to lose in pathless places, to confound for want of a plain road.” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828, reprinted in 2009, Foundation for American Christian Education, Volume I, pg. 21). Covid brought plenty of hurt, pain and uncertainty to 2020 and 2021 when so many peoples’ plans became altered–almost pathless–due to a pandemic that was not anticipated by most. The virus continues to make it difficult to plan long term as it ebbs and flows in reaction to society’s movements. Shock can even happen with things that appear positive on the surface. New retirees can feel confounded and lost for want of a “working” purpose in their lives. While retirement may have been longed for, the soul can suffer a loss of structure, purpose and recognition as the person transitions from one stage to the next. This can bring on feelings of confusion, pain, distress, and upset; the hallmarks of an initial shock often coupled with later words that retirement was harder than they had expected.
The women at the tomb were not acting disobediently to the angel when they fled in fear and confusion. They were responding in accordance with how we are made. Shock brought on the trembling as their minds dealt with the confusion of what they were seeing. For survival, shock allows us to function on the level needed to accomplish what has to be done, but it numbs the rest and stops us from processing so that our systems are not overwhelmed further. It focuses the body and brain on what is needed to survive as trauma kicks in our fight, flight and freeze response. Shock can dampen pain so that we can focus on a solution. It can quiet the mind in a way that has a tendency to make things feel like they are in slow motion. And it takes awhile for shock to wear off. Depending upon how we process and cope with the injury, hurt or wound, it can take a long, long time to heal.
The tomb is a story of trauma. The ripple effect of how a larger event can impact many, and how responses can vary in how the event data was seen and retained. The one thing we often gloss over is that there was no celebration at the tomb. The experience was one of fear, awe, pain, confusion, and shock. It wasn’t a holiday. It was another trauma for those who had already experienced the horrifying loss of a loved one, Who just happens to be our Savior and theirs. Maybe it is time for us to look more deeply at the story of the tomb for what it can teach us about trauma responses and people.
All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.John 14:25-27